Thousands evacuated as California wildfire spreads to L.A.

Thousands evacuated as California wildfire spreads to L.A.

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LOS ANGELES — The hills north of Los Angeles were burning Wednesday as one of a series of wildfires that have already devoured a large swath of Ventura County menaced the nation’s second-largest city.

With several multimillion-dollar mansions in the tony Bel-Air neighborhood already ablaze and flames threatening the Getty Center arts complex and its priceless collection, officials closed down part of Interstate 405 — a key north-south artery. All the while, firefighters rushed to contain the blaze.

“These are days that break your heart. But these are also days that show the resilience of our city,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said, thanking firefighters from Los Angeles and other agencies and all city personnel.

Gov. Jerry Brown, who had earlier declared a state of emergency in Ventura, was monitoring the Los Angeles fire while hundreds of homeowners in Bel-Air and the nearby Sherman Oaks neighborhood joined the tens of thousands of other Southern California residents who have already fled the infernos that have scorched more than 83,000 acres and reduced scores of homes and businesses to ashes, NBC Los Angeles reported.

The massive blazes showed no signs of stopping as roaring winds fueled flames that feasted on the tinder-dry conditions in the region. And by midmorning, it had already consumed a half-dozen mansions and 150 acres of some of L.A.’s most expensive and desirable properties, The Los Angeles Times reported.

The L.A. Fire Department said at least four structures have been destroyed, and the fire was 5 percent contained. The 405 freeway was later reopened, transportation officials said.

Photos: Wildfire devours homes in Southern California

While helicopters bombarded the blaze from above with water drops, firefighters armed with chainsaws struggled to clear away the thick brush that was feeding the fire.

Police ordered an evacuation of all homes between two of the city’s most storied roadways — Mulholland Drive on the north and Sunset Boulevard on the south — as thick black smoke and swirling ash turned day into night.

Bel Air resident Lori Arkin told NBC News the first inkling she got that something was wrong came at 5 a.m. when her husband’s secretary called their home and told them to look outside.

“My son went out, came in, and said, ‘Mom, you gotta see this,'” she said. “The sky was bright orange.”

Immediately, she said, they packed their cars with clothes and with family mementos like her sons’ bar mitzvah videos, grabbed the family dog, Georgie, and a few other items they had accumulated in the 20 years they lived there.

“You look from room to room, you see what makes your house a home, and you realize it’s the people and the animals,” she said.

At the Getty, spokesman Ron Hartwig said they “feel confident we’ve done everything to protect the Getty and the art collection here.”

“We have a very sophisticated filtration system that was built into the Getty and it literally reverses the flow of air,” Hartwig said. “So it pushes air out of the building rather than allowing air filled with smoke and ash to come in.”

Hartwig said the museum’s travertine and metal skin should be able to protect the pre-20th-century European paintings, illuminated manuscripts and other treasures inside.

“I don’t want to use the word confident,” he said. “Until the last ember is out, I will continue to worry.”

Still, said Hartwig, “this is the single best place for any art collection to be in the midst of a fire disaster like this.”

Los Angeles Fire Chief Ralph M. Terrazas said the footprint of the Skirball Fire is the same as the 1961 Bel Air Fire, which destroyed around 500 homes. In the wake of that blaze brush clearing was required and water pressure was increased, he said.

“The thing that stopped that fire was the wind died down,” Terrazas said. “Right now we’re experiencing favorable wind conditions. … but we are anticipating a continuation of the red flag conditions throughout the week, at least until Friday.”




Image: Bel Air Wildfire

A helicopter drops water over a house on the hilltop in Bel Air, east of the 405 freeway heading north on December 6, 2017 in Los Angele.